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Legal News for August

JURIST – News – Legal News & Commentary
Iowa becomes last state to end lifetime felony disenfranchisement
Thu, 06 Aug 2020 16:07:11 +0000

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed Executive Order 7 on Wednesday, restoring voting rights and the right to qualify for public office to Iowans with felony convictions. Iowa was the last US state that permanently banned its residents with felony convictions from voting unless they appealed directly to the governor.

Under Article II, Section 5 of the Iowa Constitution, no “person convicted of any infamous crime” is allowed to vote. The Iowa Supreme Court has interpreted this to mean that no person with a felony conviction could vote. Under Article IV, Section 16 of the Constitution, the governor is granted the power to restore citizenship rights lost from a conviction.

The executive order immediately restored the right to vote and to hold public office to anyone who forfeited that right through conviction of any infamous crime and who discharged their sentence on or before August 5. It will continue to restore these rights to individuals who discharge their sentences on or after August 6.

Under the order, a person discharges their felony sentence upon completion of any term of confinement, parole, probation, supervised release, or of completion of any special sentence. The order does not grant these rights to anyone convicted of homicide.

The order states that a constitutional amendment is the only permanent solution to the problem, although the people of Iowa would benefit now from the restoration of the right. Governor Reynolds has previously backed a constitutional amendment that would permanently grant these rights, even as this amendment has continuously failed to pass.

When announcing the order, Reynolds said:

The right to vote is the cornerstone of society and the free republic in which we live. When someone serves their sentence, they should have their right to vote restored automatically. We’re going to continue to advocate for a constitutional amendment and make this major milestone permanent.

The executive order will remain in effect until Article II, Section 5 of the Iowa Constitution is amended, and the rights already granted will remain valid.


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Category: voting rights
Rights organization calls for impartial investigation of Beirut blast
Fri, 07 Aug 2020 12:33:05 +0000

Human Rights Watch (HRW) called Thursday for an impartial investigation into the explosion at Beirut’s shipping port on Tuesday. HRW said that the investigation, conducted by independent experts, should determine the causes and responsibility for the explosion, which was the most powerful explosion Beirut has ever experienced.

The explosion at Beirut’s shipping port is believed to have been caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate. Ammonium nitrate is used as a fertilizer, and it is highly flammable and can be used to make bombs. The material had been stored without proper safety precautions for over six years. The blast killed an estimated 140 people and injured an estimated 5,000 people.

Lebanon’s healthcare facilities, which were already struggling due to financial issues and COVID-19, were further overwhelmed by this explosion. The port at Beirut handles 60 percent of Lebanon’s imports, so this has also raised concerns of food insecurity. Lebanese President Michael Aoun promised to launch an investigation into the causes.

On Thursday, HRW expressed concern about the Lebanese judiciary’s ability to independently conduct an investigation because of past documented political interference. There was also initial evidence suggesting that some judges knew the ammonium nitrate was stored at the port and did nothing. HRW said that an investigation should determine what the causes were and who was responsible for the explosion, and it should include why the large quantity of the highly combustible material was in the port for so many years. All officials who knew about the storage and failed to act should be identified.

HRW also called on the Lebanese government to ensure that all people affected by the explosion have access to housing, water, food, and health care. Countries that aid Lebanon should ensure that the aid is distributed transparently, and special attention should be given to particularly vulnerable groups.

Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, said:

The devastating impacts of this blast will be borne by Lebanon’s residents for years to come. The Lebanese government has a responsibility to ensure that the disaster response complies with human rights. International experts and international financial support will be essential for making sure the investigation is free from political interference and that victims receive the support they need.

Many countries have pledged support to Lebanon, and the United Nations has released $9 million from the Lebanese Humanitarian Fund to help meet immediate needs.




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Category: Lebanon
US circuit court rules House Judiciary Committee can sue to enforce subpoenas
Sat, 08 Aug 2020 21:33:04 +0000

The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled Friday that House committees can sue to enforce their subpoenas.

The ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by the House Judiciary Committee against former White House counsel Donald McGahn. The Committee had subpoenaed McGahn’s testimony in April of 2019 as part of its inquiry into allegations that the Trump administration had interfered with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The administration had argued that senior staff were immune from such requests due to executive privilege, and McGahn had refused to testify. A three-judge panel of the DC Circuit had ruled against the Committee, finding that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.

The House committee filed a petition for a rehearing en banc which was granted, and the full panel ruled 7-2 in favor of enforcing the subpoena. In its decision, the court found that “the ordinary and effective functioning of the Legislative Branch critically depends on the legislative prerogative to obtain information, and constitutional structure and historical practice support judicial enforcement of congressional subpoenas when necessary.”

Two judges on the court, Gregory Katsas and Neomi Rao, both Trump appointees, had recused themselves from the case, both having worked for the administration before they became judges; Katsas served as deputy White House counsel under McGahn. Two other judges, Thomas Griffith and Karen Henderson, were the majority in the three judge panel that had originally ruled against the Judiciary Committee, and both judges authored dissents in Friday’s ruling. Henderson warned that the decision “enlarges the Judiciary’s power to intervene in battles that should be waged between the Legislature and the Executive and opens the door to future disputes between the political branches,” while Griffith warned that the decision risked placing the Judiciary in the middle of fights between the Executive and the Legislative branches and degrade the impartiality of the courts.

The decision will not lead to McGahn’s testimony before the Committee any time soon, however; the court remanded other matters, including the issue of whether the court has subject matter jurisdiction, back to the three judge panel for adjudication.

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Category: trump
States ask federal court to stop Trump from not counting undocumented immigrants in 2020 census
Sat, 08 Aug 2020 21:26:42 +0000

A coalition of states and organizations led by New York filed papers in federal district court on Friday seeking to overturn President Trump’s order that would exclude undocumented immigrants from the apportionment base following this year’s census.

President Trump issued a memorandum last month ordering the exclusion of undocumented immigrants from the census count for the redrawing of congressional districts. The president had argued that in order to protect the integrity of the democratic process the law required the exclusion of those in the country illegally. The lawsuit filed by the states calls the president’s order “flagrantly unconstitutional and unlawful” and seeks summary judgment based on their constitutional claim, or in the alternative a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the order.

The states argue that both Article I of the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment require the counting of all persons, and that the courts including the Supreme Court have already decided that “all persons” means all persons regardless of immigration status. They further argue that the order violates statutory requirements put in place by Congress mandating the enumeration of all persons during the census. For these reasons they have asked for a summary judgment in their favor. In the alternative, the states have requested an preliminary injunction against enforcement of the order, on the grounds that the president’s order is deterring immigrant households from answering the census, primarily by “sowing confusion, mistrust, and fear among immigrant households about the consequences of responding to the census.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement, “We will not hesitate to take every legal action available to ensure all communities are properly represented in Congress, and get the federal funding they need and deserve.”

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Category: New York
Hong Kong democracy activist challenges disqualification from poll
Fri, 07 Aug 2020 20:16:11 +0000

Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong filed a lawsuit Friday challenging his disqualification from the country’s legislative council general election.

On July 30th, Hong Kong authorities barred Wong and 11 other pro-democracy activists from the elections, which were due to be held in September. Endorsing the decision of its returning officer,  the Hong Kong government reiterated in a press release that

upholding the BL [Basic Law] is a fundamental constitutional duty of every LegCo [Legislative Council] Member. People having the following behaviours could not genuinely uphold the BL and could not therefore perform the duties of a LegCo Member, i.e. advocating or promoting Hong Kong independence, self-determination or changing the system of the HKSAR by supporting Hong Kong independence as an option for self-determination; soliciting intervention by foreign governments or political authorities in relation to the HKSAR’s affairs; expressing an objection in principle to the enactment of the National Security Law by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and its subsequent promulgation as a national law listed in Annex III to the BL; expressing an intention to exercise the functions of a LegCo Member by indiscriminately voting down any legislative proposals, appointments, funding applications and budgets introduced by the HKSAR Government after securing a majority in the LegCo so as to force the Government to accede to certain political demands; and refusal to recognise the PRC’s exercise of sovereignty over the HKSAR and the HKSAR’s constitutional status as a local administrative region of the PRC. 

The polls have been postponed until September 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Security Law that was passed at the end of June has been heavily criticized for suppressing Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

“The reason I apply for judicial review is to make clear that the power of the returning officer keeps enlarging, they are just (pursuing a) political mission,” Reuters quoted Wong as saying. If Wong’s challenge is endorsed by the courts, other disqualifications might be similar contested.

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Category: national security law